Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Four Hundred from the Grove

Garrett Sheehan from the St. Pat's Irish Cultural Committee sent along this great article which originally appeared in the Lowell Sun in 1988.  Thomas the fiddler, referred to in the article, was his grandfather.
'The Four Hundred' Irish from the Grove     By THOMAS M. SHEEHAN

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LOWELL - It is a known fact that the original Irish immigrants to Lowell settled in what is known as "The Acre," where they built St. Patrick's Church and School.  Less recognized have been the efforts of "a third wave" of Irish immigrants who arrived in Lowell in the late 1800's.  This "third wave" of Irish came to make their homes in a neighborhood situated on a wooded hillside which had become known as the "The Grove.”  "My own Irish heritage is founded in this area of the city which surrounds Sacred Heart Church on Moore Street.”  These Irish settlers put the same energy into the building of a parish as their predecessors in "The Acre."  It was a very close knit neighborhood where people stuck together during good times and bad, weddings and funerals, births and deaths, sickness and health, through peace and war.  There was once a time when just about everybody in "The Grove" was related in one way or another.  From it's beginning in the 1880's, a family would come to Lowell from Ireland and secure a place to live, and be a base of support for brothers and sisters, as well as cousins when they arrived - to get jobs and establish a home of their own after marrying.  In many cases, single persons were married off within a year of their arrival.  There was lots of matchmaking going on.

Many of the relations of the first settling families married each other's cousins, sons and daughters, forming a clan.  This became a tradition as these families - referred to as "The Four Hundred" - banded together and built Sacred Heart Church, and later, a school for their children, while establishing a wholesome neighborhood environment.  Here, they found the opportunity to make a good life for them self’s, prosper, and provide the necessary opportunities for their children.  Many of the Irish who were living in the "Flats" (back Central, Newhall and Lawrence Streets) moved to new homes being built in "The Grove."  The foundation of Sacred Heart Church had been built, and was dedicated on Aug, 10, 1884.  With the help of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate Missonary Fathers, a parish was formed.  Parish members put their hearts and souls into church bazaars, raffles and other fund-raisers, and on Sunday, Sept. 29, 1901, Rev. Fallon of Buffalo delivered an impressive sermon at the church's grand dedication ceremony.  The ceremony was conducted by Lowell-born Bishop O'Connell, then Bishop of Portland, Me. and later to become Cardinal of the Archdiocese of Boston.  The parish pastor, Rev. J. P. Reynolds, proclaimed that the church wouldn't have come to fruition if it hadn't been for the "Four Hundred."

The principal families of the "Four Hundred" were considered to be the Lynchs, Murphys, Sheehans and Finnegans.  Checking the city directory, it was quite surprising to find just how many families with these last names lived in "The Grove" well into the 1900's.  Several Lynch families were listed on Andrews, Crowley, Agawam, and South Whipple Streets.  A number of Murphy families could be found on Andrews, Otis, Agawam and South Whipple.  Numerous Sheehan families made their abode on Agawam, St. James, South Whipple, Andrews, Bourne and Bleachery Streets.  The Finnegan families tended to reside along Lawrence Street, where several operated small shops.  To the descendants of these hard working Irish Families, the area is not Spaghettiville as it says on the Lawrence Street RR Bridge and it was never Bleacheryville, but “The Grove.”  The Murphys have been involved and intertwined with the Sheehans and Lynchs for about 200 years, going back to Ireland.  So it is no accident that they settled in the same neighborhood.  These first two families came from the farmland between Castleisland and Brosna in County Kerry, across the Feale River from Mt. Collins in County Limerick.  This is an area of rolling hills and lush fertile valley called Coom.  From the top of Castlehill, you can see the shimmering waters of Tralee Bay.  My great-great-grandmother was Mary Murphy, who married Tom Sheehan.  Their sons were Daniel (my great-grandfather), James, Mortimer, Tom (the soldier), Jeremiah (the tailor).  All except Daniel came to Lowell, but his granddaughter, Joan (Sullivan) McCarthy will arrive here next month with her adult children.There was a Thomas J. Murphy who married Josephine Sheehan (my grandfathers' sister) at Sacred Heart in 1898.  Should I trace my own roots back to the 12th century in Ireland, I just might find our ancestry stemming from Murchadh (Murphy), father of Sidechan (Sheehan), who were the 5th and 6th generation descending from Cenneitig (Kennedy), kind of Thamond; by his son Mathgamhain (Mahon), kind of Munster (Brother of Brian Boru kind of Ireland until 1014 A.D.)

The Lynchs and Finnegans came from a farmland called Garravane, outside Mt. Collins in County Limerick, a beautiful and peaceful place which I visited two years ago - in search of relatives.

My great-great-grandfather, John Lynch, a stonecutter, was married to Mary Finnegan on Feb. 6, 1842 and came to Lowell in 1883 with his six children - Timothy (my great-grandfather), Michael, Daniel, Thomas John, Mary Jane, and Catherine. 

John the stonecutter's granddaughter, Mary, was the wife of former State Rep. Connie Desmond.  Longtime Dracut High School football coach Ed Murphy was a descendant of the Grove's Murphy and Finnegan families.  The wife of State Rep. Edward LeLacheur (the former Eileen Mahoney) is a descendant of Jeremiah Sheehan the tailor, who had a shop at 20 Central Street.  Another Sheehan, nicknamed "Tom the Fiddler," was the son of Martin and Johanna, who had emigrated from Brosna.  Tom's son, John "Dukey" Sheehan, was the father of Lowell Chief of Police Jack Sheehan.  Marathoner Bob Hodge, who holds the record for running up the Mount Washington auto road, is married to Eileen (Hodge) Kempton, a Sheehan relation.  Many "grove" children, whose parents stressed respect for the law and service to community, grew up to become members of the city's Police and Fire Departments.

Edited from The Lowell Sun,  Sunday, April 17, 1988


  1. Lake, Clark, O'Roarke, O'Connor, Kelly, Ryan, McCardle, Lyons, Kelleher, O'Neil, McNally, Daily, Quealy, Linehan, Kirwin, Winn, Dooley, Shay, Doyle, McCarthy McGuire, Flarherty, Garrigan, Farley, Sheridan, Kirane, Ryan, Mahan to name a few families that made up the groves Irish families from the early 1900's and my lifetime not mentioned here and many more I can't think of at the moment. Myself and most of my friends became Firefighters, Police or teachers.

  2. My Grove families - Kelleher, Connolly, Flaherty, Griffin, McGarahan

  3. Thank you so much for this article. I believe my relatives Bernie and Catherine Roach lived on Stromquist St. - Bernie worked at the Consolidating Rendering Company in South Lowell. Catherine's brother, Dennis Crowley, lived with them when he came out from Ireland.
    Dennis married and lived at 126 Andrews Street. My grandfather, John Keohane, came out from Kinsale, Co. Cork to Andrews St. to his cousin Dennis Crowley. My grandfather eventually worked at Hood Farm owned by Charles I. Hood who made Sarsaparilla in his plant in Lowell.
    We wondered what this neighborhood was like - I have visited it several times. So thanks again!

  4. Really enjoyed reading this article. My Sheehan family is also from Garravane, Limerick that was mentioned in the article.

    My dad's two uncles, Daniel and Patrick Mahony, also left Garravane to settle in Lowell. Patrick was living on Swift St. in 1880.